stomach pain

The parasite question

Joy Cutrone, Wellness & Certified AIP Coach, FMCHC-Candidate

Agrarian roots

Some people believe old wives’ tales are true. And some people know them to be true. Or rather, it may depend on which old wives’ tale it is – but one thing we do know about old wives’ tales: like cliches, they exist for a reason: they pass down a wisdom through the years that may be just that: wisdom.

It seems like, on the one hand, the parasites that used to get into people’s systems are a throwback to an agrarian society that’s no longer the primary living situation of most people in today’s modern world: people worked the land, got into whatever was in the soil from the plants and animals around them, and then took their castor oil or whatever herbal blend grandmother proffered twice a year, like clockwork. It didn’t taste good, but it wasn’t questioned, either: it’s just what you did. Everyone understood it to be a necessary component of maintaining health.


Fast forward to the age of industrial farming, pharmaceutical dependency, and obsessive sanitization, and it seems like we just don’t need to worry about dirt and its associated organisms getting into our systems anymore. But is that really true? Is the absence of parasitology from the modern medical school curriculum really due to the eradication of parasites from our food sources, pets, and environment, or is it more about a shift in curriculum to a focus on what’s on the agenda of the organizations that fund the curriculum – oftentimes, big pharma? Pharmaceutical companies do manufacture anti-parasitic drugs, too, but most often the mainstream medical community believes that parasites are more of an issue in pets and travel medicine, i.e. third-world and tropical countries, than it is in people, or industrialized regions of the world.

Put your filter on

When it comes to the possibilities for stealth infection in the gut, you may need to decide what makes sense to you. Your conventional practitioner, for example, may not believe it’s a possibility, nor test for anything more than, say, C-Dif, or giardia (if you push for that test). But does that mean that all other possible infectors are ruled out?

To me, it makes sense that if we think our dogs, horses, cats, and other pets need to be de-wormed, and that these creatures jump from the dog run or litter box into our laps – and maybe even lick your face — that it’s possible for some of the parasite ova in them to end up in us. Yuck. Or that, while kids’ fingers are in their mouths and up their noses as a normal development activity, it’s possible for living stuff in whatever they touch gets into us. A healthy system can throw off some. A compromised system cannot. And sometimes, it may be that the overwhelm of a particularly virulent invasion is what compromises the system. The answer is not to hyper-sanitize – that just kills the good guys along with the bad, and leaves us more exposed. So, at the end of the day, I think the images and thoughts of foreign invaders might be why parasitology has dropped from our modern-day vocabulary: it’s just too yuckie. Who wants to talk about that?

Probabilities and procedures

We know giardia is a thing for hikers. We know dogs get heart worms. There’s other stuff out there. And if it’s out there, it seems plausible that it’s in here, in our guts, too. If you’re trying a number of preventive protocols and something just seems to be keeping you from making progress, maybe talk with your functional medicine practitioner about the question of parasites. Along with leaky gut, it could be a thing for you – or not. Some tests show some of the parasites; some need to be identified through clinical observation based on how they present and survive the testing process.

Our experience

There was a testimonial in Dr. Tom O’Bryan’s recent documentary series, “The Betrayal Series,” that identified a patient who had ulcerative colitis, was found to have a parasite, cleared it up, and never had a UC flare again, for more than 20 years. That was compelling. It was, in fact, a lifeline for us, because it was the one stone, at the time, that we had yet to overturn. We did, in fact, treat a parasitic infection in our family member who needed some one more step to get off the skimming-along-the-surface-of-a-perpetual-flare cycle. He’s been in remission since. Again, it’s not a 100% standalone answer, but it may be a significant contributing factor. (Wow, wouldn’t 20 years flare-free be something to attain?!?)

Treatment protocols

And one final note: there are a number of different approaches for what to do about it if you find that you or your loved one might have an issue with parasites. This is not something you treat with some OTC or unguided herbal treatment; you need a trusted advisor who’s properly trained in functional medicine to help.

Again, you’re going to need to put on your filter and decide what’s the right fit for you. But one thing does seem to be pretty universally understood: killing parasites generally also kills bacteria, so it’s a good idea to plan to do some robust work post-treatment with reestablishing the microflora in the gut. Maybe that’s a top-off FMT implant, if you’ve already done FMT, or maybe it’s a robust pre- and probiotic dietary and supplemental program, which can feed commensal bacteria if you’ve normally got a good microbiome established. There are some good probiotics available. And remember, there’s no one fixed point in time, no one treatment that solves everything: there are levers here to pull, and this could be one. Do a little homework with your practitioner to see what applies to you.


One herbal remedy designed for clearing bad bacteria, fungi, and parasites in one go is called Humaworm. I don’t love their site – honestly, the whole thing felt too “fringe” for me at first, and this reinforced that perception — but I do love their product. It worked for us. And it doesn’t seem to precipitate the need for a post-treatment bacterial reinoculation – which might mean that clearing the gut enables it to reestablish healthy flora. That’s how it’s supposed to work – but again, always check with your practitioner before proceeding with any treatment.

If you do use a broad-spectrum protocol to clear parasites, and find you want to use a probiotic to help reinoculate the gut, one supplement with a wide strain of bacteria is Metagenics Ultra Flora Spectrum; another is Primal Defense. You can order those from Wellevate. These need to be shipped overnight if you don’t get them directly from your practitioner because they have to stay cold, as all good probiotics do, except Symprove, which is a product from the UK, and which is kept at room temperature until opened. You may or may not be able to import Symprove to your country; it’s the one OTC probiotic on the market today that has been proven to help probiotics colonize. You can learn more about Symprove here – just remember, the probiotics don’t treat parasites; they help with rebalancing the gut after an anti-parasitic treatment.

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